Felipe Fernandez-Armesto: Denies Claims Made by Cop Who Arrested Him for Jaywalking

Historians in the News

A patently distraught Felipe Fernandez-Armesto told HNN today in a phone interview that the Atlanta policeman who arrested him at the annual convention of the American Historical Association for jaywalking has provided the media with a twisted version of events. He indicated he may sue to clear his good name.

On Tuesday, four days after the arrest, Officer Kevin Leonpacher told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the professor was no innocent in the affair that landed him in jail for eight hours."I told him, it's gonna be awful silly if I have to take you to jail for jaywalking," Leonpacher told the paper."I used an excessive amount of discretion."

Professor Fernandez-Armesto says the officer has defamed him. In a point-by-point rebuttal, he insisted firmly that he had not realized it was improper to cross the middle of the street and had watched his colleagues do so repeatedly without interference (in his native Great Britain, he noted, jaywalking is not an offense). He said it was not clear to him that the"young man" who called out to him to cross at the light was a policeman because the officer's badge and insignia were not visible. He said he is both morally and physically incapable of violence."I am a feeble physical speciman," he said. There was a major scuffle, but he"did not offer physical resistance."

Felip Fernandez-Armesto detained by Atlanta police for jaywalking Jan. 4, 2007. Picture by Jonathan Dresner.

While Leonpacher insists it was obvious he was a policeman it seems equally obvious that Professor Fernandez-Armersto did not realize that until the officer called for back-up and a group of policemen suddenly descended on him. Leonpacher's own police report quotes the professor as saying,"Well now I believe that you are the police."

Professor Fernandez-Armesto says he has been baffled that the police are trying to defend the arrest. The more they defend their conduct the more the media dwell on the story, which can't be good for Atlanta's image, he noted.

The story has received worldwide notice. As of Friday afternoon HNN's video interview with the professor was watched on YouTube more than 15,000 times.

In a letter to the mayor of Atlanta the AHA has warned that"In light of this experience, it would only be after the Association has received assurances from the appropriate municipal authorities that the problem has been addressed that we could again consider Atlanta as a future site for the AHA's annual meeting."

Fernandez-Armesto was arrested a week ago Thursday, the first day of the convention and charged with Failure to Obey a Police Officer and Physical Obstruction of Police. After sitting eight hours in jail he was released on bond. The next day charges were dismissed after the prosecutor heard the professor's side of the story.

Fernandez-Armesto is a former Oxford don. He currently holds two academic positions. He is a visiting professor at the University of London, St. Mary's College, and Prince of Asturias Professor at Tufts. He is the sole author of nineteen books. At the AHA Prentice Hall sponsored a reception to celebrate his textbook, The World: A History, which came out in paperback in August. Posters at the convention invited people to"stop by and meet" him. He is no longer in need of attention. He has been getting more attention, he told HNN, than he ever anticipated or wanted.

He said he has received hundreds of emails, most supportive. He is now busy answering them instead, he said rather plaintively, of preparing his syllabus for the coming year.

Click here to listen to HNN's audio interview with Fernandez-Armesto.

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More Comments:

David Nicholas Harley - 1/17/2007

Surely, the officer bending over is the arresting officer. We can't see exactly what he's wearing.

On arrival in the US, tourists are often told to ask for the ID of people claiming to be police officers.

After two suspected prostitutes were shot by undercover police officers, allegedly in self-defence, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story detailing how prostitutes were frightened of supposed police officers who had been subjecting them to extortion. The police chief said that it must have been imposters at work, but undercover vice patrols were halted.

Is it so unreasonable to ask a police officer to identify himself?

Lisa Kazmier - 1/17/2007

I can't say I'm 100% sure but I suspect that the person with dark hair seen from the back of the head at the bottom of the 2nd picture is myself. Height issue and hair make me think it is. If so, then I crossed the street RIGHT THERE in fron of that scene.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/17/2007

Indeed, they could have been helpful rather than just stick police tape up and discourage people from making a direct straight line across the street.

That's what I did. The scene of that picture is exactly what I came across when I got outside the Marriott. And I jaywalked across the street, under the tape posted outside the Marriott. And I'm not apologizing for it. Didn't have the endurance right then to take one extra step (I presently walk with a cane).

I practically walked right by this group. They did not notice me, did not stop me. So much for anyone really being concerned about pedestrian "safety" as has been alleged. I think it's a crock myself, so in that respect count me on the professor's side.

I haven't found anyone give me a plausible explanation as to why I passed w/o notice despite jaywalking right in front of this group.

John W Bland - 1/15/2007

Yet another report of arrogant and immature "Georgia" police bulls. Has nothing changed since the '60s? Get a load of that hippo in the pictures—the one in the suit with a badge. I never met a southern cop I didn't dislike in all the years I lived there. I'm with the professor. Would it have been unreasonable to station one of that gang of (8)intimidating testiliers to direct traffic so the convention attendees could safely "jaywalk." Or would that subject them all to similar thuggery?

David M Fahey - 1/15/2007

Any comment from the hotel which employed the off-duty police officer?

Peter August Kurilecz - 1/14/2007

well in examining the photographs taken by the HNN Asst Editor Jonathan Dresner and posted on the HNN website all of the officers are wearing blue uniforms. I notice that the officer concerned has patches on both shoulders. even when wearing a bomber-style jacket police will have badge on the front.

what color uniform do the police at Tufts University wear? Is this professor truly living in an ivory tower to not know what a police uniform looks like.

"something which zipped up the front(listen to the video) & said plainly that the badge was _not_ visible."
i would rather depend upon the photographs posted on the HNN website then memory of the Professor.

this link to hnn contains a good photograph. the office second from the left in the image is the officer who stopped the professor. Notice the patches on his shoulders,as well as the patches visible on all the other officers.


"Would you reach for your wallet to show ID to a stranger who encroaches on you in the street and refuses to identify himself?"

i've been in numerous cities around the world, and I know what a police officer looks like. I have no problem showing my identification to a police officer if asked.

Carlos Alberto Barbouth - 1/13/2007


As the good "perfessor" indicated several times, none of the items you indicate were visible, since the police office was wearing a bomber jacket. Would you reach for your wallet to show ID to a stranger who encroaches on you in the street and refuses to identify himself? I wouldn't. Not in São Paulo, Brazil, where I now reside, not in the US, where I lived for 7 yaers, and not anywhere else.

Sudha Shenoy - 1/13/2007

Have a look at the following:

& then compare it with the photo of the Atlanta policeman. Is there any difference? One of the British bobbies is _also_ carrying a gun.

The good perfesser described the policeman as a young man wearing a 'rather louche bomber jacket' -- i.e., something which zipped up the front(listen to the video) & said plainly that the badge was _not_ visible. Maybe the perfesser was a -- ?? foreigner -- ???

Peter August Kurilecz - 1/13/2007

"Fernandez-Armesto said he didn't know Leonpacher was a police officer...."

let's see blue uniform, badge, gun on hip, what clues did the good perfesser miss? or did he think it was a member of the Village People in town for a concert?

steven michael johnson - 1/13/2007

Here is what the professor had to say in an Atlanta newspaper :
"I have long known, as any reasonable person must, that the courts are the citizen's only protection against a rogue executive and rationally uncontrolled security forces. Though my own misadventure was trivial – and in perspective laughable – it resembles what is happening to the world in the era of George W. Bush. The planet is policed by a violent, arbitrary, stupid and dangerous force. Within the USA, the courts struggle to maintain individual rights under the bludgeons of the "war on terror," defending Guantanamo victims and striving to curb the excesses of the system. We need global institutions of justice, and judges of Judge Jackson's level of humanity and wisdom, to help protect the world."